Just over two months ago I gave away free copies of my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant over a two day period. I'd released Jack's adventures to the world a few weeks previous to that, but following the initial sales burst, download figures had slumped, hence my decision to give my book away for free in order to get things and hopefully readers moving again. In total 90 people downloaded my book, including 59 on the first day alone.
Great eh? Well, watching that big fat green line shoot up like some kind of arrow surely was. If all of the people who downloaded my book read it and loved it and reviewed it and then recommended it to their friends then my book might just get off the proverbial ground and land somewhere in the stratosphere, which is what I'm sure every author thinks when they run a book give away. The problem though, as I'm sure other Indy authors will testify, is that the vast majority of the people who downloaded my book will in all likelihood never ever read it.
Why? Because it's free. Think about it - the vast majority of people use and/or consume whatever they pay for. If you buy a snickers bar you eat it fairly soon after popping it in your pocket. The same goes for computers, TV's, cars, cups, plates, and especially books. Sure, if someone gave you a free TV or car you'd use that, but would you if you had a hundred or even a thousand to choose from? That's what it's like for the would-be reader of yours and my book. They have hundreds, maybe even thousands of books swirling around the digital netherworld of their kindles, each one demanding to be read. Your free book would have to be pretty special for them to ignore the latest offering from George R.R Martin or Stephen King for example, not to mention the classics (because that's exactly who the Indy writer is competing with). Of course if you are a close friend or a family member of the author then that may just be different, but for the majority of readers your book will likely slip further and further down their reading list until eventually it's forgotten about altogether.
Over the last few months I've probably downloaded somewhere in the region of ten freebies and read precisely none of them. Not out of spite, not out of ignorance, but out of the fact that I have other more important books to read - I'm trying to make my way through all fourteen of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, as well as reading the books by other Indy authors that I've paid money for. It's a shame, because I really would love to have the time to read EVERYTHING that comes my way - and perhaps I will once I finish the WoT, but since I'll likely be neck deep in another fantasy epic by then, I doubt it.
The Long Hard Slog
Ultimately, the Indy author, aside from giving away review copies for free, has to (like every other author on the planet) embrace the long, hard slog of near-constant promotion in a bid to generate sales, reviews, and buzz, until such a time (if this ever comes about) that it becomes self-sustaining. The only way to do this is to get yourself out there by posting details of your novel on the top social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and by posting sample chapters online so that people can get a feel for the product (because it is a product just like anything else) that you are selling (this is especially the case when you're an Indy writer with only Amazon behind you). You could also consider setting up a writing blog (like I have) or something to that effect (I'm also preparing to set up a fictional blog for my main character, Jack Strong) in a bid to draw more readers towards your novel(s).
There is a downside of course - you can kiss goodbye to all those lovely, fat, green arrows and those double digit 'sales' figures and get ready to embrace a few small red ones that don't go very high and come back down to Earth fairly quickly. Since my last and only freebie give away I have sold 18 books, which is an average of about 6 or 7 a month, a number that of course is hardly going to worry the NY Times best seller list, but of these (and here's the good thing) quite a few people have actually read it and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, which should if I'm lucky boost sales figures a bit more.
The Publishing Ladder
I don't want to be an Amazon author forever; ideally, I'd like to climb the publishing ladder and jump, if not to a major publisher, then at least to a small publisher with some sort of outreach that I currently don't possess. One way for me to do that of course is to approach agents and publishers with queries about my book. But there's just one problem: I've already done that (at least in the U.K) and I was rejected by a staggering 100% of them! What I now therefore hope to do is sell a few more books, establish more of an online presence (I have Jack Strong's diary particularly in mind here), and then approach some more agents and publishers. If I could get somewhere in the region of 100 to 200 sales (I'm currently hovering around 60) then I'd be fairly confident of piecing together a good, convincing pitch (at the end of the day ALL publishers want to be sure your book will sell) that would land me a half-decent publishing contract. So of course if all you do is give your book away for free it will be hard to convince the publisher/agent that there's an audience out there willing to pay for it.
I'm not going to lie to you - publishing on Amazon and trying to generate sales and buzz is a long, lonely, and often quite tiring road. It takes constant resilience and effort. Sometimes I go a week without selling anything, and then there's a week like last week where I sold 4 copies in the space of a couple of days (yay me!). But if I've learnt anything it's that despite the above target, I have grown to appreciate and value ONE SALE. The fact that somebody - usually someone I don't know - is interested enough in my book to pay money for it and read it is nothing short of magical in my eyes, and at the end of the day I'd rather have one sale than ten or even a hundred free downloads.
If you want to read my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below: